Island Mele

By John Berger,
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Friday, June 6, 1997

Artistry colors
Na Leo’s new release

Colours: By Na Leo Pilimehana (NLPRecords)

NA Leo Pilimehana's last album, the Hoku-winning "Anthology I 1984-1996," suggested that the group might be running out of ideas. The three new recordings in "Anthology" were copywork remakes of well-known hits by well-known national artists that were nicely sung but added no fresh perspectives. "Colours" lays those fears to rest and reaffirms the trio's place as a major creative presence in progressive local music as well as a very popular and commercially successful group. Other local "girl groups" would do well to make Na Leo their role model.

Each member of the trio, Nalani Choy, Lehua Kalima and Angie Morales, distinguishes herself as both vocalist and composer. All but one selection is an original. The exception is neither a stand-out nor a recycled oldie. It fits nicely but it's the originals that make "Colours" so impressive. It is easily Na Leo's best yet.

Nothing here is frivolous or trivial. Na Leo and co-producer Kenneth Makuakane are imaginative and resourceful throughout. A live string section here, synthetics there, an assortment of talented studio guests (Tennyson Stephens, David Choy, Dave Inamine, Jess Gopen) at key points, all are utilized in creating a variety of styles and textures.

Kalima is the most prolific composer. She shares a rainbow of moods and emotional situations with a skill most local pop composers only dream of. "The Rest of Your Life" perfectly balances insight with sweet sentiment; the languid arrangement is tranquil but never vapid. Ballad writers would do well to study it.

Four more Kalima songs, "Why," "Could It Be," "Never Enough" and "You Are Everything," share her thoughts on the ups and downs of life with equal skill. "Could It Be" stands out as an example of her ability to stretch beyond ballads and craft strong pop-rock songs. "Never Enough" eloquently captures the anguish of low self-esteem and the struggle to escape the feeling, and the title of "You Are Everything" says it all, it's a perfect anthem for those lucky in love.

Choy is a versatile composer too. "Two Souls" is a romantic retrospective on meeting the man she eventually married. "He's Got Me (Wrapped Around His Finger)" displays her sense of humor; it was written for a friend with a weakness for handsome but manipulative men.

Morales' sensitivity to broader social problems is heard in "Colors Within Their Eyes." It was co-written with her husband in response to the Oklahoma City bombing and brings to mind the song she wrote as the title track of the 1996 charity album, "For the Sake of the Children."

Those too young to remember Steve & Teresa will love "Taro Patch Twist." The melody and arrangement makes the song a close cousin to S&T's Hoku-winning "Uwehe Ami and Slide" (Song of the Year in 1988). Watch "Taro Patch Twist" win Song of the Year at the Hokus in 1998!

Lyrics are included even though almost all songs are sung in English; the exception, Kalima's beautiful "Nani No Ke Ko'olau," is another example of Na Leo's depth and an exquisite celebration of their Hawaiian heritage. The liner notes share the stories behind the songs and provide additional insights about these three talented women.

Predicting that "Colours" will be a major contender in all possible categories at the 1998 Na Hoku Hanohano Awards is absolutely a no-brainer! Imua, Na Leo!

John Berger, who has covered the local entertainment scene since 1972, writes reviews of recordings produced by Hawaii artists. See the Star-Bulletin's Home Zone section on Fridays for the latest reviews.

See Record Reviews for some of John Berger's past reviews.

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